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Home FEATURES Nancy Chan Interview

Nancy Chan Interview

Written by Chris Pew   
Sunday, 04 November 2007 11:33
Oakland native, Hot and Cold participant, CCA graduate and employee, she's also satisfied with black and white as her primary palette.

Nancy Chan is an artist whose work I first saw in the pages of Hot and Cold, a zine put out by Oakland artists Chris Duncan and Griffin McPartland. Then I got to see those images in person at Eleanor Harwood gallery and realized Nancy was doing something truly unique with figures. They were simple and airy and had this great sense of discovery in them. She recently showed at Receiver Gallery in San Francisco back in September.

Can you give us some background on yourself?

I was born in Oakland, where my brothers and I were raised in our parents' restaurant and laundromat. I got my BFA from CCA at the end of 2005 and have been sharing a studio space in Oakland with three other artists for almost a year now.

Can you describe your work for us?

My sumi ink drawings are, in a sense, portraits of figures interacting both with other figures and the spaces around them. Many of them are works in a series, and deal with a quiet intimacy between the subjects, the space, and the viewer. The sequential nature combined with the detail work is essentially a long, close study of all the little things that occur in a few seconds time - weight shifts, heads tilt, fabrics fold.

You work mostly in black and white, why is this, and are you afraid of the rainbow?

I don't feel I've exhausted all of the values that can come out of a pot of black and a pot of clear. Being aware of what I can pull out of black ink can make it incredibly daunting to consider what can be done with color, so it may be a while before I consider changing my palette. A lot of intense emotion can be evoked through color, also, and the subjects of my drawings tend to come from a calmer place.

Your work seems to be centered around the figure, can you explain this?

There are a lot of great subtleties in the body, with the little curls in a person's hair and the infinite gestures that can come out of a pair of hands. I also enjoy the concept of taking people out of their inanimate world so that we may give them the full attention they deserve.

Are the subject matters in your work friends, family or strangers?

They're all good friends or very closely associated with friends.

Do you have a day job?

I work part-time for the library at CCA's SF campus.

How do you think you fit into the SF art scene?

Considering that my studio's in Oakland, not very well, I guess. Seriously, though, I feel I'm still coming into my own art-wise, so I don't think I fit into any scene quite yet.

Do you keep track of what's going on in the art world?

That's funny, because keeping track of the contemporary art scene is part of my job duties at the library. Now that I'm out of school, I definitely try to make the effort to check up on who's showing where and what people are doing. If the effort's made, you'll definitely find something that can help in your own personal artistic development.

Can you give us some information about what influences you to create art?

I tend to keep my memories close, and I can get lost in the details of what the mind remembers. A lot of my work stems from trying to remember all the little things and putting myself back in a certain position as well as in the positions of others.

What contemporary artists or developments in art interest you?

I'm always excited by the contemporary illustration scene, and I'm happy to say that all the artists I know are extremely talented and infinitely inspirational.

What are feelings on being a woman in what seems to be a male dominated art world?

My closest artist friends are all female, so I don't feel like any sort of black sheep. I admit a two-woman show is a rare occurrence in general, but working with smaller independent galleries and curators has left me fairly fortunate in the fact that gender has yet to play any role in where, how, and what I show.

Do you do any commercial art?

Haven't yet. I'd like to try it sometime, but I'm not sure how drawings of my friends could ever be used in a commercial way.

Would your ultimate goal to be to make a living as an artist?

I thought that was every artist's ultimate goal! Yes, I really enjoy making things and all the great people I meet in the art community, so if I could survive off of one or both of those things, I'd be happy. Running a gallery on the side is a goal I'd like to achieve as well. Alternatively, I'd also be satisfied if I could make a living playing video games all day.

Would you ever be interested in curating?

The Exquisite Corpse Show was a lot of fun to put together while I was in school, so I'd love to get something like that going again. Plus, there are so many talented people out there who are working but not showing, someone's gotta pull together the reigns and lead them into a white-walled space.

What do you do to relax?

Hang around with friends, play video games, and watch DVDs, mostly. It's a nice, sedentary life when I can afford it.

What is your typically starting point for a new piece and how long does it take you to complete that piece?

New work starts with photographing. In most cases, I don't know what will come out of the photographs until I look at them all and start pulling out the ones that best reflect the sentiment of the shoot and the subjects. From there, I start drawing and reworking and finally inking. Depending on the number of figures, the complexity of various details, and overall size, a triptych can take three or so weeks to complete.

Beside SF where else in the world would you rather be?

Japan. I wouldn't know the language, but the clothes might actually fit me there. I'd love to kick around the UK, too.

Is music important to you? If so, what are some things you're listening to now?

Music is a very important reminder of what creative efforts can do for a person's soul. Like the visual arts, music can evoke a wide range of emotions and feelings that are not often or easily translated into words. It's an amazing mood elevator and energy kick-starter, too, essential to the studio and life. According to the iPod, I've been listening to a lot of Smiths/Morrissey, Broadcast, and some compilations from Hot Chip and one of the guys from Belle & Sebastian.

Do you know any jokes?

I'm not a very good joke teller; I tend to sit on the dry side of humor. Although I've always liked the "What's brown and sticky?" joke, if you've ever heard it.

For more info on Nancy, check her site: seeinsidefordetails.com

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